Gender Differences in Childhood Risk Factors for Violent and Nonviolent Crime Among Persons Incarcerated in the United States

Erika Lichter, Harvard School of Public Health
Angela Browne, Harvard School of Public Health

This paper investigates gender differences in childhood risks for violent and nonviolent offending in a nationally representative sample of incarcerated men and women. It also gests the hypothesis that women experience higher levels of childhood risk prior to their involvement in criminal offending than men. Most existing studies of the relationship of childhood and other variables to involvement in illegal activities by women and girls rely on relatively small sample sizes and/or do not make direct comparisons to men, making it difficult to identify risk clusters and trajectories unique to women. These analyses are based on data from the 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Prisons, a sample of 18,000 incarcerated women and men. Family risk factors (including childhood physical and sexual abuse, parental drug and alcohol abuse, and parental criminality) and sociodemographic risks (i.e. poverty) are examined in relation to men and women's juvenile and adult offending patterns. Analyses focus on types of offending (property crimes, violent crimes, drug offenses), patterns of offending (none vs. chronic), and age of first offense.

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Updated 05/20/2006